Liberalism advocates individual rights to freedom and autonomy. Owing to its emphasis on issues such as freedom of movement and equal opportunities, liberalism is often presented in ethical terms. Links with self-interest are nonetheless apparent. Because liberalism underlines rights such as freedom of movement and non-discrimination, it attracts socio-cultural professionals who benefit disproportionately. Liberalism thus defines ethics in terms consistent with the interests of richer classes; rather than stigmatizing wealth inequalities, an attitude which prevails in some tribal societies, liberals advocate equality of opportunities. Liberalism is currently undergoing crisis. Following long-standing association between liberalism and supranational organizations like the EU, the rise of national populism has made certain liberals less committed to national democracy. This threatens the traditional balance between domestic and international liberal democracy, making reconciliation of diverse interests more difficult.
In the final chapter, we draw the argument to its conclusion. Almost 200 years of reform have improved the representativeness of the UK's electoral system. But so long as first-past-the-post remains in place there are real limits to just how representative it can be, as disproportional and biased election results will continue to be the norm. Further electoral reform (barring relatively small-scale alterations to the rules for boundary reviews) seems unlikely at present. But it cannot be ruled out in future. But meaningful debate over reform needs to take into account deeper debates over the very nature of representation. We do not offer a solution (there is no universally applicable solution), but we hope to have clarified some of the terms on which the debate needs to be conducted.
With the achievement of the universal adult franchise, it became increasingly important to find an agreed mechanism for periodically redrawing the map of parliamentary constituencies to take account of the countries’ changing population geography. The 'British solution' – periodic redistricting carried out by impartial Boundary Commissions – emerged from debates before 1945, and was codified in legislation passed immediately after the Second World War, That legislation, adapted in various ways down the years, is the focus of this chapter, which examines how the rules evolved and how the redistricting process operated (and with what effect). The rules required the Boundary Commissions to balance two principles: the organic (the representation of distinct communities) and the arithmetic (ensuring, as far as possible, that constituencies contained near-identical electorates). But the relative balance to be achieved between these two imperative was not clear in the legislation.
The chapter examines the development of the UK's electoral system from the Great Reform Act of 1832 to the enfranchisement of women voters in 1918. The politics of electoral reform throughout the period focused on the extension of the franchise from a small number of male property owners at the start of the period to almost all adults by the end. But side by side with the growth came debates about the definition of parliamentary constituencies, and periodic moves to change the constituency map as the electorate itself changed, The chapter describes these parallel political movements and their consequences for representative politics in the UK.
As shown in the previous chapters the UK's first-past-the-post electoral system produces a relatively arbitrary relationship between a party's vote share and its share of seats in Parliament. Beginning in the nineteenth century, critics of first-past-the-post have therefore regularly called for electoral reform. The chapter examines the history of Britain's electoral reform debate and looks at alternative electoral systems which are already in use for elections to some bodies in the UK. How do they work, and how do they perform compared to first-part-the-post?
Under first-past-the-post rules, election results are the outcome of an interaction between the geography of party support and the geography of parliamentary constituencies. But in translating votes into seats, first-past-the-post elections can be inconsistent and arbitrary in their operation. Results are generally disproportional (with some parties receiving a higher share of the seats, and others a lower share, than their vote shares might suggest). And they are often biased (consistently favouring one party more than another). The chapter examines both features of first-past-the-post elections and shows how they have changed over time to affect how representative the UK's electoral system really is.
Chapter 1 introduces the main focus of the book – on the background to, and operation of, the UK's first-past-the-post electoral system and what it means for representation in Britain – and outlines the structure of the detailed argument to be taken up in subsequent chapters.
Social democracy seeks compromise between capitalism and socialism, advocating democratic collective action to achieve political and economic freedoms. Recent social democrats have made mistakes, presiding over deregulation and unordered immigration. This is related to globalization, a process estranging social-democratic elites from concerns of traditional supporters. Social-democratic acceptance of capitalism, a long-standing left-wing criticism, is associated with such failures. Despite mistakes of social-democratic politicians and the challenge of globalization, social democracy has redeeming features. Emphasis on economic security means that it averts the instability associated with conservatism, while respect for individual rights counters national-populist stigmatization. Social democracy also avoids difficulties associated with the new left; restrained patriotism appeals to lower classes, while preference for gradual change avoids potential instability. In a way which other worldviews are not, social democracy is based on compromise, making it an appropriate governing tactic. Because of divisions in its base, between authoritarian lower classes and liberal middle classes, social democracy may have entered terminal decline. If this is the case, the ability of social democracy to reconcile separate interests might be emulated by alternative positions.
The new left advocates redistribution and equality. Though the new left is descended from socialism, important differences in support bases mean that the two are distinct. Working classes dominated socialist parties; young middle classes are relatively prominent in the new left. The new left advocates economic justice, yet there are good reasons for suspecting that its programme will primarily shift resources from the rich to the young middle classes, leaving the poorest in a similar position. This results from the new-left support base; no theory of redistribution, least of all the Marxist approaches which many in the new left favour, predicts that political movements will transfer resources away from supporters. This offers fascinating insight into the way in which self-interest furtively hijacks policy. Though talk is easy, the new left naturally emphasizing the justice of its programme, limited resources and subliminal tendency to prioritize personal need mean that resources tend to be transferred to supporters. The 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestos thus pledged to abolish tuition fees, a measure benefiting the middle classes, while doing little to reverse Conservative benefit cuts.
A central task of any electoral system is to achieve representation. But representation of what, and for who – and how do voters want to be represented? The chapter looks at some key issues. Should MPs be independent decision makers, simple delegate for local preferences, or primarily agents of their parties? Do voters feel their MPs understand them – and what sorts of people do they think should be MPs?